Working from home used to be a luxury for me. I lived in Wilsonville and had to commute to Portland and Salem for my job. I felt like I was always on the road and put 25,000 miles on my car the first year. My boss at the time (with a different employer) allowed me to work from home every now and then when I didn’t have any face-to-face meetings. I would take my laptop home, put on comfy sweats and sit in my easy chair and type away. I learned some valuable lessons early on that helped me to stay engaged and productive while working from home, and have gleaned ideas from others as well.
If you’re working remotely now or in the future, I hope you find these tips helpful.
Get dressed – It may be very tempting to stay in your PJ’s all day when working from home. I strongly encourage you to act like it’s another day at the office and get up and follow your normal routine. Take a shower, get dressed and eat breakfast. You may not need to put on clothes as nice as those for the office, but getting dressed helps us feel human and confident. And if you get pulled into a video conference at the last minute, you’ll thank me!
Designate a specific workspace or home office – Keeping a separation of work and home is important. Just like entering your workspace in the office, have a designated space where you’ll work at home and enter it to begin work and exit it when you need to take a break, eat lunch and finish up for the day. I have a space reserved that has my laptop, files and books. It’s my work space.I sit down around 8 a.m. to open my laptop, and I leave that space at 4:30 p.m. when my day is done. I don’t eat dinner in that space, and I don’t do personal email or social media after hours in that space. The separation is important.
Keep clearly defined work hours – When they announced that schools would be closed, one of the first things a friend sent me was an outline of how to structure your child’s day. There were blocks of time for reading, writing, math, play time, lunch etc. It was a wonderful guideline for keeping my daughter on task. As adults working from home, a similar schedule can be helpful. I don’t expect to get calls at 7 in the morning when I’m working from home, even though my home is my workspace. My hours begin at 8. I also love making lists and checking things off, so keeping to my calendar and blocking time for calls, research, writing, lunch etc. keeps me on track and helps the day go by productively. Don’t let the lines blur when you work from home. Treat yourself like an employee and hold yourself accountable.
Build transitions into and out of work – When we drive into work, we have commute time to think about our day and what we have going on. There is preparation time to get ready for work. Before you go to your home workspace, take a few minutes to give your brain time to prepare for work. That might mean taking a few deep breaths, getting some water or checking that the lighting is adequate — whatever you’d do in your workspace at work. And at the end of the day, most of us have the same drive home and time to unwind, unplug and think about family and friends and what the evening holds. Take time to step away from your home workspace. Turn off your computer, clean up your area and walk away from the space. I often unwind by going for a quick walk down to the mailbox to check the mail, changing clothes and putting on some music.
Don’t get too sucked into the news or social media – This may be a personal thing, but I stay away from watching the news and reading what frustrated, angry, scared people are saying. Not only is it distracting and unproductive, much of the information is either not true, not relevant to me, or too hyped up. I’ve been relying on the experts: the CDC, the Governor’s press releases and the DAS coronavirus webpage for my information.
Communicate and stay connected – Some of you may be finding your productivity has soared without all the meetings to attend. I can understand how meetings take a lot of time. However, don’t neglect one powerful reason for meetings – staying connected. A few days after I started working remotely, I participated in an all-staff conference call. It was reassuring to hear the voices of others on my team, to know that we are ok and still providing service to other state employees. Also, my manager scheduled reoccurring team meetings for us to stay connected and to check in on each other. We’re professionals and we get our work done, so it isn’t about her “checking up on us”; it is the importance of reaching out, staying connected to each other and keeping communication flowing. It is reassuring to know others are out there doing what you’re doing and caring about you. Communicate, communicate, communicate!
Don’t forget to play – One of the ways I re-energize is to share stories and laugh with my co-workers. I have a best friend at work and I love checking in with her to see how she’s doing, how her kiddo is doing and what’s new in her life. It’s easy when her cubicle is 10 feet away from me at work. Don’t let out of sight become out of mind. Continue to reach out and laugh with co-workers. Maybe a text now and then or a quick IM or email. Laughter and emotions are very important at a time like this. How we feel affects how we work, so make sure you keep nurturing social relationships when working remotely.
If you’ve found something to be helpful while you work remotely, please share.
One of my favorite coaching questions is, “What was most useful or most valuable for you here?” This is a great learning question after something has happened or changed.
The last time I remember really asking myself this question was when the twin tours fell on 9/11. I was living in NYC at the time. I worked seven blocks from the towers and I had to walk home that day. I remember stepping outside my building and seeing everything covered in ash. Nothing was moving — not cars, taxis or buses. It was unsettling. I had placed wet paper towels over my nose and mouth because we really didn’t know what the air would be like. Walking home, I remember being amazed at the outpouring of kindness shown to others. People had their doors open and were offering water and blankets to people in need. Stores were giving away water and energy drinks. I asked myself, “Will things ever be the same?”
We may be asking ourselves that same question now. We may feel very unsettled and unsure. That’s understandable. Now, more than ever is a time to dig deep and find a courage and a strength you didn’t know you had. What have you learned about yourself? What have you learned about this situation? What is useful and helpful for you now? What can you do to move forward? I have asked myself these questions as a state employee, a mother/daughter/wife, and as a human being. Because we are whole, capable and creative beings, we can learn from this and move forward even stronger.
If anyone would like to share insights or talk through questions, I love to listen and would be happy to talk with you. Don’t hesitate to reach out.
I’ve heard it said that the best part of running is when it’s over. There is some truth to that! For the past few months I’ve been training for the Paddy Pint, a 10K race scheduled for March 14. Because of COVID-19 the race was postponed. I decided to run it anyway, at home on my treadmill. I’m not going to lie, the best feeling was when I reached 6 miles and could hit the stop button. It felt so good to rest. Why is that? What’s interesting, is it’s not the rate of speed I ran or the distance I ran that determined my fitness. According to Tony Schwartz and the work he’s done on The Energy Project, the true definition of fitness is how quickly your body recovers. His work has shown that it’s better if we do intervals of sprints and rest instead of one long run where you’re never really going all out, you just give enough to make it the to the end.
This idea of rest and renew applies to both life and work. Intervals of sprints and rest increased my speed and distance in running and sprints and rest have improved my energy and capacity at work. Sprints at work are those things that you do that require high energy and engagement and in return, you experience high productivity and high positive emotions. This is your high performance zone. This is where you thrive. But nobody can stay in high performance zone all the time. We have to know when and with what tasks we can still engage but dial down our energy to renew and refresh. That might look like actually taking your full lunch break and walking away from your workspace. It might look like a mid morning and mid afternoon walk around the building to unplug from technology.
Think about your day. What are your sprints? Where can you rest and renew? Make sure you are taking time for both. As I learned in running, you can’t really benefit from a renewal time if you haven’t given 100% and gone all out. And you won’t develop and progress giving just enough to go the distance. Those peak experiences in work, those things that cause us to thrive and flourish feel amazing! The sprint is always worth it and the renewal offers time for insight and self reflection. Go and find that for yourself!
Happy Friday! I spent this week at work wondering what I wanted to blog about. I had many disjointed ideas in my head with no vision for how to put them together in a way that would add value to busy readers. Then this morning on my run, literally in the final hour, “Still Loving You” by the Scorpions came up on my playlist and suddenly the idea of how to put it all together came tumbling into my mind. It had nothing to do with the words of the song, but something about his tangy, mournful tenor sound said, “Come on Lisa, figure it out!” So here we go! For the record, my trusted editor is in Texas visiting family so please forgive my errors. Come back soon, Rae!
A quote for insight:
A recent article from Thrive Global talks about what happened to me this morning. Where do decisions hatch for you? “If the right decision were nestled inside an egg, you couldn’t force the egg to hatch. Important work decisions are like that, too. They don’t come when you force them. Outside-the-box solutions tend to appear while you are doing other things — vacuuming or rearranging your desk — because they need the opportunity to hatch on their own.” If we’re always in high performance mode (high energy, high engagement) and we don’t take time to dial down our energy, we don’t give our mind time to refresh and recover. Give yourself the gift of renewal this weekend and the simplest or silliest thing might give you the insight you’ve been looking for.
Question for reflection:
As leaders and managers, we often take on the role of the hero. We want to jump in and fix things, solve the problem and make everything better. What would happen if we moved from hero to coach? What that would look like is could you stay curious a little longer and rush to action and advice-giving a little more slowly? What might be possible if we stay in questioning longer and resist telling more?